For all its benefits, direct marketing in its traditional forms is unsustainable for a modern digital audience. So how can using big data make direct marketing really work today?
Direct marketing is a hugely empowering tool for companies that want to talk directly to their existing and potential customers, rather than having to go through retailers or use above the line advertising methods to get their marketing messages out.
From posted flyers to cold calling on a landline, old forms of direct marketing depended on reaching people where they were physically based. And while the principle of reaching people where they are remains a cornerstone of effective direct marketing, the range of possibilities for each person's location, when it comes to online behaviour, has increased exponentially in the digital age. Which means that traditional approaches to direct marketing, and even the inclusion of general technology-based methods like mass SMS, are failing to reach their mark.
One of the biggest failings of trying to apply an old approach to direct marketing for modern audiences is that too many people receive the same message, which means that it isn't nuanced enough to really appeal to the people who read it, so it only really works well for products that have a wide appeal. Too much direct marketing material, whether physical or digital, ends up in the trash and consumers feel bombarded by useless information, which increases their levels of frustration and brand- or message-fatigue.
For marketers, the effectiveness of old-style direct marketing is also almost impossible to measure in a high level of detail. This means that effective adaptation and value for marketing spend is always tenuous.
So, what does "new school" direct marketing look like? Well, it still looks like reaching people where they are, but in a digital world this requires huge amounts of data and, more importantly, the ability to interpret this data to know who and where the best audience for a marketing message is. The technical term for this type of data activation is programmatic advertising. But it's just about using the information available about online behaviours to get the right message to the right person on the right platform at the right time of day.
For example, data activation will be able to show that a particular type of person checks the weather on their phone first thing in the morning, looks at the share prices for their portfolios on their computer at work when they arrive at the office, plays Candy Crush on their tablet during their lunch break and watches Netflix on there too after dinner in the evening. This level of detail about audience segmentation and knowing what people are interested in, where they go to get their desired info and when in the day they do different things online means that marketers are giving extremely powerful tools for speaking to people. This deeper understanding means content can be tailored in terms of what the message says and how and when it is served - on which platform and at what time of day.
For companies selling niche products, data activation means they can reach exactly the right people - even if it's only 250 - with their message, without frustrating, boring or wasting money on irrelevant groups. Forget about needle in a haystack, this is like finding one particular atom on the beach.
Once a type of audience has been assessed and understood, it is also easy to duplicate similar audience segments with what marketers call "look-alike audiences". These are people who follow the same online behaviour patterns as audiences that have already been understood and reached, increasing the number of people that can be effectively targeted with a message.
The ability to adapt campaigns - and quickly - is also a huge asset that comes with the amount of feedback data activation-based direct marketing gives you. The precise measurement of interaction with different messages in a campaign means that they can be refined in terms of the type of message, platform, time and audience they are being sent to at any point.
In tight economic times, this is a massively important feature for managing marketing budgets effectively and not wasting money on a "shotgun" approach to advertising.
Another aspect of new school direct marketing that is overlooked in the older forms of this type of advertising, is consumer interest and satisfaction. The chance of reaching people with a message that will actually be of interest to them is exponentially higher, meaning they get less annoyed, feel less like their private spaces are being invaded and are more likely to engage with a message. The beauty of data activation for direct marketing is that once a company has found the best way to reach their target audiences, they can use the same methods again for future campaigns.
In a world that prizes instant gratification and that is increasingly rejecting old-world ideas, data activation offers a strategic way for marketing teams to take the best of an old-school marketing tool and turn it into something powerful, effective and interesting for modern, digitally-savvy audiences.